Friday, November 4, 2011

Ceremonials - Florence and the Machine

There's a version of Florence Welch that sometimes comes out during interviews, where she's soft and shy and occasionally giggly, like an embarrassed little girl. Listening to her new album, Ceremonials, I can hardly believe the woman roaring through these dark lyrics about devils and death is the same person I saw practically blushing her way through an interview on The Colbert Report last spring. You can't pin Florence down, and that's what makes her so awesome - one minute, she's an art school dropout, shrieking about cutting someone's eye out and beating up an old lover. Then, the next thing you know, she's twirling around onstage in a yellow ballgown like a fairy queen, while thousands of fans worship her every note.

That being said, I must admit that I'm not completely head over heels with the new album, at least not yet. I certainly like it; I've been listening to it multiple times a day since it came out this past Tuesday. There are some tracks that I loved immediately, like "Shake It Out" (easily the "Dog Days Are Over" equivalent this time around), "Never Let Me Go," "No Light, No Light" and "Leave My Body." The bonus tracks are also fantastic, as "Strangeness and Charm" and "Bedroom Hymns" were both two of my new favorites when I heard Florence perform them over the summer. The first album was a bit artsier and more experimental, while Ceremonials is more cohesive and robust, as though she's developed a greater sense of the music she wants to create. The music is mature and dramatic, with an even heavier focus on darkness and demons than the last time. Let's not forget those pipes, because her voice is an incredible as always. When these songs are good, they are great. This is the Florence I adore.

Florence and her many personalities, looking creepy.
But then there are a handful of tracks that leave me feeling bored. I'm mostly looking at you, "Breaking Down," "Seven Devils," and "Remain Nameless." These songs are not particularly horrible. It's just that I expect much greater from Florence, the queen of soulful verses and belted out choruses. I want epic, I want to be moved, I want goosebumps covering my arms. In fairness, there were a few tracks on Lungs that took me a while to warm up to as well, so maybe it will just take some time. I already like several songs more now than I did on the first few spins, so there's hope yet.

However, that does not address some of the overly dramatic lyrics that may cause some eye rolls. "Shake It Out" is full of so many clich├ęs ("It's always darkest before the dawn," "It's hard to dance with the devil on your back," "Damned if I do, damned if I don't," "It's a shot in the dark," and so on) that it seems like it must be intentional. One song, "All This And Heaven Too," addresses frustration with being unable to properly describe a feeling with words: "Words, poor language / Doesn't deserve such treatment / And all my stumbling phases never amounted / To anything worth this feeling..." Okay, okay, we forgive you, Florence.

To be honest though, the albums will never be as good as seeing Florence and the Machine live. Her live performances never cease to amaze me, as she can make even the disappointing songs sound like the greatest music of all time. She's that fabulous.

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